Are UK workforces ready for the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’?

Are UK workforces ready for the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’?

Duncan Gooding, Chief Operating Officer

Duncan Gooding, Chief Operating Officer

It’s no secret that technology has transformed the way we work. Thanks to ubiquitous internet access, smartphones and videoconferencing, work can be done at any time and from anywhere. Advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) will soon bring about hybrid workforces of humans and machines. Despite this, many businesses are not yet leveraging technology to its full potential.

This is why we have launched our Workforces 2025 campaign to assess where UK businesses and their employees stand in their use of current and future-focused technologies. We also look at how prepared they are to withstand the impact of what the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has termed ‘the Fourth Industrial Revolution’.

The oncoming influx of machine learning, AI and robotics, and evolving employment expectations (especially as the first tranche of digital natives joins the workforce), are all predicted to turn the very concept of how we work on its head. Largely, in the research we commissioned with YouGov – which consulted 500 British business decision makers, as well as 2,000 consumers – we found that workers are frustrated by their office’s use of traditional and often inefficient technologies.

To remedy this, business leaders need to reconsider their strategic focus when approaching IT investment, looking further ahead to relevant and impactful next-generation technologies. Still, not all technologies are created equal and many will not survive the hype period. Therefore, to ensure the value of technology investments are maximised, decision makers need to carefully assess which technologies will benefit them and adopt wisely, rather than investing rashly to simply appear advanced.

In our research, we discovered that most of Britain’s workforce lacks access to the required level of technology to do their jobs well. For example, two thirds of employees believe that outdated technology impacts their workplace productivity in some way. In terms of time wasted in the office, 40 percent of workers attribute a slow internet connection to inefficiency, followed closely (36 percent) by having to use a work computer that is not powerful enough for their desired tasks. Old versions of software and systems that keep crashing account for 29 percent of workers’ technological frustrations, while nearly 1 in 5 of those surveyed feel their time is wasted when trying to share and download large documents, a common sign of poor internet speed and connectivity.

However, it’s not just that employers are reluctant to adopt newer technologies. In fact, the majority of British businesses are failing to take advantage of established solutions that have been available for decades. Our research found that just 3 percent of workers would describe their workplace as ‘Leading Edge’. This means having access to hi-spec computers, laptops and software, super-fast and reliable internet connectivity and the use of cloud-based software and collaboration tools. While use of tools like Skype, Facetime and WhatsApp is increasingly ordinary for consumers among all demographics, just 7 percent of employees say they regularly use video conferencing at work. When it comes to the use of instant messaging and business messaging tools, only 17 percent of people regularly use these collaboration tools in the workplace. In comparison, most Britons we surveyed (44 percent) describe their workplaces as ‘Traditional’. This means having access to useable but basic computers, telephones, and other hardware. They may typically experience slow to adequate internet speeds, systems, and connectivity which will hamper their day-to-day working practices.

Ultimately, if British businesses continue to neglect adopting the existing workplace technologies available to them, and more importantly, fail to prepare for emerging new technologies over the next five years, the potential impact upon the productivity and health of the British economy will be significant. In our research, we found that the top technology priority over the next decade for 55 percent of businesses is ensuring an adequate internet connection. By contrast, just 18 percent of businesses stated that investment in machine learning and artificial intelligence is a priority. This figure fell to just 6 percent for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees, which make up the bulk of the British economy. An attitude change is needed quickly among many of the country’s business leaders, or they will be left playing catch up to other more progressive nations that understand how newer technologies can streamline their models, driving happier, more efficient workers.

Our Workforces 2025 research highlights that too many British businesses could well be caught short by the rate of change currently underway in enterprise technology. Many industries, like retail, are already being transformed by digital native companies who will undoubtedly thrive in this technological revolution. While it is true that businesses must ensure they are getting the basics of their technology infrastructures operating smoothly to boost productivity a year from now, they must start thinking about how to capitalise in the coming Fourth Industrial Revolution. If they do not, they will likely fall by the wayside as more tech-savvy companies enhance worker productivity and deliver better products and services to their customers.

In this series of Workforces 2025 blogs, we will investigate a selection of future trends and developments that senior business decision makers need to consider and begin planning for, to keep their enterprises competitive at a pivotal time for the country’s global productivity. We will also look at how TalkTalk Business aims to assist in the successful delivery of these services, to enable a thriving future workplace.